IRS Chief Tangles With Lawmakers Over Missing Emails

IRS commissioner John Koskinen appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee. He tells lawmakers how emails that possibly reveal scrutiny given to Tea Party groups vanished from IRS computers.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. On Capitol Hill today, the House Ways & Means Committee drilled down on one question - what happened to Lois Lerner's e-mails? Lerner is the former official who was at the center of an IRS controversy last year. She oversaw agents who investigated advocacy groups and delayed the applications for tax except status. Conservatives say their groups were unfairly targeted. NPR's Peter Overby was at today's hearing, and he filed this report.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: First, a bit of the computer history. Lois Lerner's hard drive crashed and was recycled in 2011. Agency experts tried to rescue it, but couldn't. That was two years before the current controversy burst into public view, but it was not before some conservative groups had begun noticing their tax exemption applications were getting stalled. That was the reason for this hearing. The only witness was the current head of the IRS, John Koskinen. Ways & Means chairman, Dave Camp, put him under oath.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

REPRESENTATIVE DAVE CAMP: Before I recognize Commissioner Koskinen for his opening statement, I ask that he stand to be sworn in.

OVERBY: Koskinen painted a bright picture of cooperation. He said the agency has delivered 770,000 pages of documents. He said it's produced 67,000 emails of Lerner's, despite that crashed hard drive. Camp's response...

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

CAMP: Well, thank you. What I didn't hear in that was an apology to this committee.

JOSH KOSKINEN: I don't think an apology is owed. There is - not a single e-mail has been lost since the start of this investigation.

OVERBY: Republicans see it differently. They say the Obama administration is stonewalling the investigations. Camp, a Michigan Republican, wants a special prosecutor. He asked Koskinen to endorse that idea. Koskinen responded.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

KOSKINEN: There are six investigations going on of this event. The IG...

CAMP: Yes or no?

KOSKINEN: The IG is already investigating...

CAMP: Can you give a definitive answer to this committee? Yes or no, do you support the appointment of a special prosecutor?

OVERBY: Committee Democrats spoke up to object, but Camp continued.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

KOSKINEN: I do not...

CAMP: I'm controlling the time. I'm asking a question that can have a simple yes or no answer.

KOSKINEN: I think the appointment of a special prosecutor after the six investigations ongoing and the IG investigation into this matter ongoing would be a monumental waste of taxpayer funds.

CAMP: So is that a yes or no?

KOSKINEN: That's a no.

OVERBY: Democrats tried mocking the whole proceeding. Lloyd Doggett of Texas asked if Koskinen or Lerner knew anything about Benghazi or UFOs. Arkansas Republican, Tim Griffin, said the committee just wants a conversation. But mostly, the Republicans came down hard on the Democratic appointee, who pushed back. Wisconsin's Paul Ryan challenged Koskinen.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: I don't believe you. This is incredible.

KOSKINEN: I have a long career. That's the first time anybody has said that they do not believe me. I am actually...

RYAN: I don't believe you.

KOSKINEN: That's fine.

OVERBY: Ryan went on. The other voices here belong to the committee's ranking Democrat, Sander Levin of Michigan, and Chairman Camp.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

RYAN: Being forthcoming is to say, you know what, investigators - Congress who's investigating us

KOSKINEN: I'm sorry...

REPRESENTATIVE SANDER LEVIN: Would you let him answer the question?

RYAN: I didn't ask him a question.

LEVIN: Yes, you did.

RYAN: Being forthcoming...

CAMP: Gentleman - the gentleman - the gentleman from Wisconsin has the time.

RYAN: I control the time. I control the time.

CAMP: I realize that disrupting a hearing sort of assists certain people, but the gentleman from Wisconsin...

RYAN: I am not yielding time. I control the time.

CAMP: He has the time.

OVERBY: And Koskinen will have more time before more Republican investigators next week. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has scheduled an unusual Monday evening hearing to dig further into the matter of Lois Lerner's missing e-mails. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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